The next six months could set a new pace for the work-life balance

The only way to make it easier to get back to the office is to reduce the amount of time you spend in the office.

As efforts by major tech companies to get back into the office continue to fail, another proposed change in the work world is gaining traction: the four-day working week. In the UK, a trial with 70 companies began this week, which the BBC called "the largest in the world", with participants paying their employees a regular weekly wage for 80 % of their work. This pilot may be the largest, but certainly not the only one.

Some companies have opted to try the four-day week for themselves, such as Dell, which recently switched to a shorter week in the Netherlands after trying it out in Argentina before. Kickstarter transitioned its team to a four-day week in March, and eCommerce platform Bolt transitioned full-time in January.

The wider four-day trial in the UK will take place over six months from June to December this year and will be attended by 3,000 staff from across the country, including some from Canon's UK division. Beacon, the London-based CRM firm involved in the trial, said there is mounting evidence that a four-day work week makes employees more productive. “It turns out that our happiness and productivity are not positively related to the number of hours we spend at our desk,” Beacon CTO David Simpson wrote.

Why now?
It's hard not to notice the recurring headlines about the changing nature of work since the coronavirus pandemic shocked society two years ago. Most of the news has focused on the return to office initiatives and their failures, but the four-day workweek had been a topic of discussion for some time before the pandemic.

A trial of a four-day working week in Japan in 2019 resulted in a 40 % increase in productivity, the company said. The trials in Iceland ran from 2015 to 2019, but the measurement results were not released until 2021, bringing even more attention to the four-day work week while back-to-the-office became a hot topic.

4 Day Week Global, the non-profit that is one of the organisations behind the current six-month trial of a four-day workweek in the UK, may also have something to do with the high level of interest. Founded in 2018, this non-profit organization runs pilot programs in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and provides support to companies considering migrating. The British think tank Autonomy, Boston College in the US and the British universities Oxford and Cambridge also support the British initiative.

According to a study by 4 Day Week Global, work productivity was supported by a four-day work week, while stressing levels decreased and work-life balance significantly improved: 54 to 78 % were satisfied with their work. Additionally, in the current economic climate, 63 % of companies surveyed by 4 Day Week Global found it easier to attract and retain employees after moving to a four-day workweek.

"You can be 100% more productive 80% of the time in many jobs, and companies around the world have shown this," Juliet Shor, principal investigator at 4 Day Week Global and economist at Boston College, told the BBC. Shor said workers in various industries fill their days with unproductive activities that can be easily cut short without harming business. Not all companies will fit into the four-day working week: Shor said industries such as healthcare and training, where the workforce is already exhausted and overworked, won't be able to adapt to the four-day model. However, there is the annoying problem of operational transformation. Done poorly, the four-day experiment could put even more strain on those with already busy schedules.

Economics Institute economist and researcher Julian Jessop told the BBC he is sceptical of the four-day workweek for a simple arithmetic reason: "You need to be 25% more productive per day," he said.

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